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Chapter 13: Fallen Angel

Out in the open sea of the grand line, an unusual craft races. The vessel, which vaguely resembles some kind of bike, is much smaller than any of the sailing ships usually seen on the Grand Line by an entire order of magnitude. It is also much faster despite lacking sails, and rushes along at an incredible speed, kicking up a huge plume of water in its wake. There is only one person riding aboard it, a short figure wearing a huge backpack, and there seems to be little room for many more, but still, as the craft cruises along, anyone listening might have heard two distinct voices talking over the roar of rushing water.

Rider: What a lovely day! There’s no storms, no pirates, no whirlpools, no Seakings…

Other voice: No land yet either. So don’t get overconfident. The grand line is the most dangerous sea for a reason

Rider: I thought this was Paradise?

Other voice: A pirate’s paradise. And only compared to the New World. Just don’t look away from the log, even for a second, got it? I don’t want us to get lost or shipwrecked again.

Rider: Got it. Guess I should avoid that giant cloud up ahead then.

Other voice: Cloud? A storm cloud? I can’t see a thing here! What does it look like?

Rider: Wait. That’s not a cloud, it’s…

Other voice: What?! What is it then? What is going on? Show me already!

Smoke fills the sky over Piper Flats.

The island lives up to its name, barely more than a sandbank that never rises more than a few metres above the surrounding sea, it is usually all but invisible at a distance, the only sign of its presence being the tall wooden buildings that rise on stilts from the sands, and the masts of the ships docked at the jetties. Today, however, instead of masts thick clouds of smoke appear on the skyline for miles, much to the despair of those on the island.

Nobody is sure exactly how the fire started. It had begun in the early hours of the morning, and by the time the first fishermen and traders woke up and came for their ships, they were already beyond saving in the inferno. By the time the day’s business at the port would have normally started, all that is left of it was a smoking ruin of blackened timbers, and the only remaining ships were those that arrived after the fact. Included among these is the Second Wind, which drifts in a few hours before noon while its crew view the devastation with some surprise.

Caspian: You know, when I said you guys run into chaos everywhere…. I had no sense of scale.

Marley: What happened to this place? It almost looks like a bomb went off!

Caspian: It might have. Piper Flats is famous for its fireworks.

Dimitri: Fireworks?! We can get fireworks here?!

Byrn: Wait! Wait a second. Isn’t there a marine base here as well? We’re not exactly being discrete sailing right into the port like this.

Dimitri: Pirates go where they want. If we were going to change our course just because of some marines, there would’ve been no point setting it in the first place.

Jessica: Besides I expect they’ll be busy for a while with the port in this state.

Caspian: eh, they’ll at least pretend to make an effort. But I doubt they’ll care much about this. Anyway, while we’re here there’s a guy you should talk to. He knows a lot of useful stuff. He’ll probably be able to help you.

Byrn: Right. I’ll stay here and watch the ship. Whatever you need to do, we shouldn’t waste time on it.

Dimitri: I want to try and get some more weapons while we’re here as well.

Livingstone: We need more fooooooood!

Jessica: It’ll take a full day here for the Pose to reset. We can’t leave before then anyway. We might as well make a proper trip of it.

Byrn: Just keep a low profile, ok? Try not to draw attention to-

Dimitri is already launching himself off the ship with his jump jets, followed by Marley flipping and rolling, and Livingstone spinning in midair, all three shouting as they go. Caspian can’t quite manage the same kind of acrobatics, but makes an enthusiastic attempt, and Jessica, the one person to depart relatively normally, looks somewhat embarrassed at being the odd one out. Byrn stares after them, and then leans back on the mast with an amused sigh.

Byrn: Well, so much for that…

On the other side of the port a marine from the local base arrives to investigate. He wears a flat hat and a coat indicating senior rank, although in a breach of tradition his arms are actually in the sleeves and it is pulled around him closely. A group of merchants and traders of varying kinds surround the jetty he approaches, and one of them calls out to him as he walks up to them-

Merchant: You’re here to see the damage?

- and walks right past him without stopping and carries out along the jetty.

Lieutenant: Lieutenant Riddle. And you are?

Merchant: Ah- I’m Soyokaze Strassen. The captain of the Silver Dancer. Formerly…

Lieutenant Riddle: So what’s the problem here?

Strassen stares after them incredulously for a few seconds. His reply, when it comes, turns into a shrill almost squeak.

Strassen: It’s on fire!!

Riddle: No. No, that’s not the problem

Strassen: The Dancer is destroyed. I have lost my entire cargo, and now I must pay both for passage back to Water Seven, and for a new ship to be constructed. This accident leaves me facing financial ruin, and I am one of the fortunate ones with wealth beyond a morning’s catch!

The lieutenant is busy stamping his feet on the Jetty and pacing, barely looking at Strassen

Riddle: There’s timber going spare at the marine base you can use. You’ll all be able to rebuild. The problem is this jetty here.

Strassen: The jetty is fine! It’s not even scorched!

Riddle: My point exactly. The fire spread out of control across the entire harbour, didn’t it?

Strassen: Yes, obviously!

Riddle: So explain something to me. How did it cross the sea to burn every single ship in Piper Flats to almost nothing, but not even touch the jetties in the way?

Elsewhere

The building Caspian leads his crewmates to is a small, unusually designed hut beneath a suspended walkway, in the shadow of several much higher square cut buildings. The walls inside are covered with diagrams, pictures, and newspaper articles, strung together with coloured pins and threads, and the one occupant, a strangely dressed man in purple and dark red, is preoccupied by the largest of these walls, clearly attempting to deduce something, or perhaps several somethings. He is just in the process of adding another picture to a list marked “Liege corruption circle” when the arrival of the pirates startles him into dropping it.

Caspian: Hey Mr P! I’m resigning!

Pavo: Ho?!

The man looks around sharply as the black coated pirate strides in confidently. Behind him, Dimitri, Marley, Jessica, and then Livingstone enter one after the other through the narrow doorway.

Caspian: Here we are guys. This here’s Pavo Dural.

Pavo: Ah.. the young doctor returns! With a crew of companions I see!

Jessica: “Young doctor”?

Caspian: We go back a long way… It’s sort of a long story… Anyway, what happened to the harbour, Pavo? It looked kinda wrecked.

Pavo: The harbour? There was a fire earlier. I don’t know the cause but-

He jumps as Livingstone knocks against the wall, causing a string to break loose. A note titled “Steinbeck conspiracy” detaches and swings, sweeping away others in its path, and Pavo hastily grabs at them

Caspian: You’re going to say it was sabotage aren’t you?

Pavo continues to talk while snatching at the loose pictures, which flutter in the air as they fall.

Pavo: -given how easily it started and how quickly it spread-

Caspian: Yeah, it was sabotage. Who did it?

Marley: Eh?

Pavo: Perhaps a local resident. There was a distinct lack of damage to the town and the marine base.

Caspian: The marine base is intact? How about their ships and dock?

Pavo: Unharmed, of course. They are entirely separate from the rest of the town, and all marine ships had left several days ago.

Caspian frowns.

Caspian: Well. That’s not what I’d call a mystery.

Pavo They were called to an important operation. There is reason for them not to be here.

Caspian: Come on. Operation or not, this has to be Sycamore’s doing. He’s the one who gains from it.

Marley: Wait what? And who’s Sycamore?

Caspian: He’s the guy who runs the local marine base. He’s bad news. Really bad. And this is a new low. With the port destroyed, the only supply of timber left is in the base, under his control. The whole town’s under his thumb now.

Pavo: Sycamore has little concern for anything beyond his post. He would not carry out a blatant crime such as this. But no matter. What can Pavo Dural do, for the enemy of state, Dimitri Marcellus, and his company?

This last question is punctuated by Pavo turning and turning a surprisingly intense gaze on the entire crew. Livingstone physically leans backwards in an attempt to avoid it, keeping his balance against all probability.

Marley: Uhhh.

Caspian: Eash.. just had to make it awkward, didn’t you…

Dimitri: Caspian said something about you ... knowing things?

Pavo: Everyone desires knowledge of something, even as little as the price of fish tomorrow. Even as much as the past actions of an unknown individual. I am indeed, a seller of knowledge.

Dimitri: So where can I get some fireworks?

Pavo: Any of the really tall thin towers near the market. I do hope you aren’t planning to destroy something important…

Caspian: You know.. I wasn’t expecting that to be the first question you asked, under the circumstances..

Marley: He’s right! We’ve got a better question!

Livingstone: We need to find that guy!

Dimitri: Right. Jessica’s brother.

Caspian: Eh? Her brother?!

Pavo: Hmmm?

Dimitri: Listen, we need to know about a certain pirate. One who has managed to stay hidden for three years with the marines looking for him. Anything you can tell us? Like where to find him?

Pavo: Of course, of course. And who would this pirate be?

Dimitri: John Jango de Triezieme.

The colour drains out of Pavo’s face and his expression slides from curious to horrified. His voice loses both its accent and much of its volume, becoming little more than a squeak.

Pavo: De Triezieme?

Dimitri: Apparently they call him Dark Angel. Can you tell us anything?

Pavo: Yes… I can tell you much about him. Are you sure you will not reconsider?

Jessica steps forwards with a firm expression

Jessica: He kidnapped my brother.

Pavo: Then… I understand your determination. But you don’t understand what you’re trying to do! De Triezieme is not merely hard to find. He’s entirely uncontrollable! Tell me, do you know of the Tenryubito?

Caspian: Huh?

Dimitri: I don’t like the sound of that name.

Jessica’s expression has darkened considerably at this, and she provides an explanation

Jessica: It’s not a pleasant one. They’re the nobles who supposedly rule the entire world. But they do terrible things to other people. When I was a young girl, one visited Goa. A boy tried to sail past him in a fishing boat… and they just shot him. Without warning. What sort of person does that?

Pavo: The Tenryubito live beyond reproach or question. Even threatening them is certain death. Actually attempting to harm one would never be forgiven.

Marley: So that’s what this guy’s done? Attacked the Tenryubito?

Pavo: He killed one of them. In public, in front of witnesses, without hesitation. The World Government has sought his capture ever since.

Jessica: Oh…

Pavo: There is more. The marine’s operation I spoke of earlier, that was because of him as well. They learned his location and sent seven fully crewed battleships to corner him at a certain sea train station.

Marley: Now let me guess-

Pavo: By the time reinforcements arrived, but one ship remained, almost beyond repair, and very few survivors. Dark Angel had long since left. The survivor’s accounts are… terrifying.

He rummages through his desk, and pulls out more papers, which he puts down in front of him

Pavo: One claims that rays of light fell upon the ships and they exploded as though bombarded by cannon-fire. Another speaks of some invisible force that tore up the decks and threw men from their posts. Yet another describes the dark angel himself vanishing and appearing out of the mist while the marines shot at him to no avail. The accounts are chaotic, and differ on many details, but they all agree he fought alone, and yet their entire force was outmatched entirely. The ruin he wrought speaks for itself, no?

Caspian: One man did all of that?!

Pavo: Not a man. A monster. A demon. Whatever power it is he possesses, that one cannot possibly be human. Seeking a foe like that would lead to disaster.

There is a long silence in the aftermath of this.

Dimitri: So do you know how the marines managed to find him? That would help a lot.

Pavo: Ah?!

Jesicca: Dimitri…

Dimitri: We do still need to find him. We’re not going to back off just like that. We knew it was going to be dangerous when we started. And we should be able to do something at least. I mean, we also took out an army the other day. And a ship. Whatever it takes, we’ll find a way.

Dimitri is now drawing stares from the rest of the room. Marley and Livingstone both have embarrassed smiles, and the former is scratching his head nervously. Jessica looks surprised, as well as at a loss for words. Pavo simply looks shocked.

Pavo: Young doctor?

Caspian’s own expression is best described as awestruck.

Caspian: This is… they actually could pull it off, Mr P. There’s no way we’d all lose to one guy.

Pavo looks around at the group hesitantly, and then smiles. The delay between the two is slightly too long for Jessica’s liking, but she doesn’t comment on this.

Pavo: Your resolve is admirable. I shall give what aid I can. Alas, in this I cannot give you the answers you seek, for they are beyond my reach. But! I do know where such answers may be found.

Caspian: Oh! Rook’s Roost?

Pavo: Rook’s Roost.

Meanwhile

On the far side of the island, the local marine base has become subject to an impromptu siege. A high fence surrounds the central yard of the base, along with the barracks, storage, and several other buildings, two of which tower high above everything else on the island. The main gate into the yard is blockaded by a large group of civilians, all of whom are shouting over each other and getting increasingly angry. The base’s commander watches from one of the high towers.

Sycamore: What’s all the ruckus out there anyway?

There is a crash from the other side of the room as the door bursts open. A large person with a build comparable to a wall stomps in at an enthusiastic pace. The newcomer has thick red hair, including a moustache, and trails smoke behind him. The reason for this turns out to be his coat; it had been a standard marine longcoat, worn as a cape, but is now much shorter, and is missing one sleeve, instead sporting a decidedly non-standard burn mark that also consumes half the coat’s back.

Fired: Sir! Our report! Commander Sycamore!

The commander turns from the window. He is wearing a similar coat, except it is intact, for obvious reasons.

Commander “Diving Hawk” Sycamore: Yes?

Fired: The entire harbour has been fired up!

Sycamore: Is that so? I already- Fired?!

Fired: Huh? I’m fired?

Sycamore: Lieutenant Commander Fired, what happened to your coat?!

Lieutenant Commander Fired: Oh… Well, myself and Riddle investigated the harbour, as ordered, Sir! And I got really fired up! But then I got too close to a jetty that was still hot, and didn’t notice it was burning, until eventually my coat fired up as well!

Sycamore: You’re still too clumsy, Fired! I can’t have my men in that kind of uniform!

Fired: I get it, I get it. I get fired up about this! But I don’t need this uniform anymore anyway.

Sycamore: Hmm?

Fired: Because I’m fired. You just told me I’m fired, sir. Do you know where I could get a new job-

Sycamore: No. You’re not fired! Now tell me something I didn’t already know. What did you and Riddle find?!

Fired: Ah! Sir! The devastation was confined to the harbour and the ships in it. Riddle suspects deliberate arson. And the entire town is getting fired up!

Sycamore: Angry, huh? So what the hell are they doing on our doorstep?!

Fired: Oh. Apparently we have the last timber supplies in town. That might be it.

Sycamore: And you told them about that?! Fired you… idiot…

A muffled thud outside interrupts him, and they turn to the window. Outside the base, some members of the increasingly irate crowd, perhaps growing impatient with the lack of response, had started trying to force open the gates, and their collective efforts have started to have an effect.

Sycamore: Get to your station. I’ll deal with this rabble.

Below, the gates have opened enough to admit several of the angriest citizens, who run through into the yard.

Mob leader: To the timber store! If the marines won’t even acknowledge us then w-urk!

Sycamore: Halt!

Sycamore cuts the charge off before it really begins, crashing feet first into the mob leader’s face after leaping out of base’s window.

The commander twists in mid-air as he hits, and his diving kick transitions smoothly into a slashing attack, then a tackle, with such force that the unfortunate victim literally skids back across the ground and through the gate he had just entered by. The commander rises from the stunned person to face the shocked crowd, and raises his sword. The weapon is oddly shaped, with a flat-topped triangular blade that gets narrower nearer the hilt than at the edge.

Sycamore: Try that stunt again, and I can’t guarantee nobody will die. Now disperse.

Fisherman: We just need timber to rebuild!

Citizen: I thought the marines were protectors!

Sycamore signals, and four marines step into the gap in the gate behind him and bring rifles to bear against the crowd.

Sycamore: An accident in the port is not our responsibility. Fending off a hostile attack is.

He turns and walks back into the base, sheathing his sword alongside a second identical one. As he reaches the doorway, lieutenant Riddle runs up to meet him

Riddle: I had Fired provide a report on the situation sir.

Sycamore: The situation is completely out of hand! The base is under attack from ordinary citizens!

Riddle: Ah yes, sir... Fired was wondering.. Couldn’t we just give them the spare timber?

Sycamore: Out of the question. Marine ships could be coming in for repairs at any time, particularly in light of recent events. If we have no resources to support them, we are failing in one of our duties. Besides, this is a mob. We cannot yield to mob rule.

Riddle: I thought you might say that. So, our orders?

Sycamore: Nobody gets in until the town quietens down. Close all the gates, and have everyone on guard stations. Arrest anyone unauthorised within the perimeter, lethal force if necessary. Rook’s Roost is under siege.

Riddle: Yes sir. And should-

He is cut off as a distant shout echoes across the yard.

Rider: Woooooaaaaaaaah!

Other voice: Oh now what have you done?!

Both marines turn suddenly as the yell ends in a loud crash and a sound of breaking glass. Riddle pulls a den den mushi from his pocket as it starts chattering, and listens intently for a few seconds.

Sycamore: Now what?

Riddle: Unidentified one-man vessel just passed through the harbour and breached the archive. Do our orders against intruders include this?

Sycamore’s expression has darkened even more and is best described as thunderous.

Sycamore: Get them at once!

To be continued

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